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The Trevor Thomas column castigating President Obama for saying America is not a Christian nation ("Is America a Christian nation," Thursday) is based on his failure to make the crucial distinction between what it means to be a nation of Christians as opposed to a "Christian nation."
The polls and historical evidence cited by Mr. Thomas do indeed show the United States is a nation of primarily Christians. Throughout our history, the vast majority of Americans have identified themselves as Christians and many politicians and leaders have made it a point to also identify themselves with Christianity, whether out of genuine conviction, an effort to attract voters or both.
Mr. Thomas is wrong, though, to suggest that the principles on which the United States was founded represent "Christian principles." Even a cursory reading of history would show that the founders of our nation, many of whom were not Christians, were guided not by Christianity but by the "Enlightenment" philosophical principles of freedom and representative government.
It is neither an accident nor a coincidence that our Constitution does not even mention God or Christianity. Rather, it is a reflection of the determination by those who gathered in Philadelphia 222 years ago this summer that religion should be a matter of personal choice and not of government policy. That's why the first reference to religion is not in the Constitution itself but in the First Amendment (coincidently printed just above Mr. Thomas' column) and provides not for the establishment of a "Christian nation" but that "Congress shall make now law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
Mr. Thomas is also incorrect in implying that President Barack Obama's saying we are not a "Christian nation" is new or shocking. In fact, presidents have been saying the same thing at least back to Thomas Jefferson, who included it in a treaty with the Barbary pirates in the early 1800s.
Mr. Thomas is most incorrect, though, is suggesting the religious freedom we enjoy is based on Christianity. Once again, even a cursory reading of our history shows that in the colonial period, when most European nations and most American colonies had an established religion, religious freedom was rare on both sides of the Atlantic.
A "Christian nation" would be the equivalent of the Islamic Republic of Iran, where an nonelected mullah serves as final authority and determines if government policy is consistent with Islamic law. That may work for Iran, but it would be completely contrary to American ideals of freedom and representative government.
What America special, and what brought millions of our ancestors to this country, is this nation's dedication to freedom, including freedom of religion.